Of coyotes and caporali

How anti-trafficking discourses of criminality depoliticise mobility and exploitation

Authored by: Neil Howard

Routledge Handbook of Human Trafficking

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138892064
eBook ISBN: 9781315709352
Adobe ISBN:


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Whether it be the coyote sneaking his ‘victims’ across the border, or the caporale coercing his gang labourers, dominant anti-trafficking discourses serve to depoliticise labour mobility and exploitation by locating causality ‘inside’ an individual criminal figure, and thus ‘outside’ of the systemic, structural forces that condition them. This chapter seeks to challenge this depoliticising tendency, drawing on qualitative field research conducted with apparent ‘victims of trafficking’ in Benin, Nigeria, and Italy, and with the ‘traffickers’ who apparently exploit them. The chapter begins by examining examples of the dominant discourses drawn from media accounts or political texts depicting the trafficker and the trafficked. It then introduces the research and the context in which it was carried out. Next, it draws an anthropological picture of the experience of, and motivation behind, (exploitative) labour mobility in the artisanal gravel quarries of Abeokuta, Nigeria, and the tomato fields of Foggia, Italy. This section underlines that, far from coerced, the vast majority of apparent ‘trafficking victims’ in these two contexts are in fact willing labour migrants who move mainly for the money. Those who enable their work and movement are thus better understood as facilitators rather than as abusers. The chapter concludes with reflections on the hidden political economic back-story structuring these migrants’ experiences – a story hidden by the discourses that construct their mobility and labour as forced.

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